2012 NFL Draft: Denver Broncos Should Target Defensive Tackle with 25th Pick

Dan AllenCorrespondent IIFebruary 28, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14:  Zane Beadles #68, Chris Clark #75 and Mitch Unrein #96 of the Denver Broncos lead their teammates onto the field against the New England Patriots during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are entering the 2012 NFL draft in a very interesting situation for the organization.

The team is led by a quarterback in Tim Tebow, who many believe may never make it in the NFL.

The team's defensive backfield is such a disastrous combination of aging veterans and inexperienced young players that there are no players in between the two groups.

Besides an aging Willis McGahee, there is no running back capable of making an impact on the roster.

Even with all of this, Denver's biggest need this offseason falls at the interior of the defensive line.

Denver has rarely had a defensive tackle worthy of mention over the past several seasons, with the most memorable name being Jamal Williams—who was clearly over the hill in his final season with Denver.

Defensive tackle proved to be an area of extreme need for Denver last season, with few tackles having the ability to disrupt the quarterback in the passing game. Ryan McBean registered four sacks as the only tackle capable of creating pressure, but he also attracted off-the-field attention with legal issues early in the season.

Denver's other defensive tackles, Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas, both played as effective run-stoppers, but pass-rushing is a necessity from at least one tackle in a 4-3 defensive scheme. Both players are free agents, with the possibility that neither will return.

With a late first-round pick, Denver will miss out on the top two tackles, Michael Brockers out of LSU and Devon Still out of Penn State. At pick No. 25, they should still have an option between the bottom three of the top five projected tackles.

Fletcher Cox out of Mississippi State is perhaps the best fit for Denver. One of the fastest tackles in the draft, Cox has ability to stuff the run and also rush the quarterback. A strong, well-built player, Cox is regarded as a smart player who can easily read the offensive line and the ball-carrier on run plays. Regarded as a tremendous tackler due to above-average upper body strength, Cox is also known for playing hard throughout the game, a very useful trait in an NFL player.

Previously listed higher on draft boards, Jerel Worthy may end up falling into the second round due to character concerns. A strong, able tackle out of Michigan State, Worthy was criticized for showing a lack of motor on the field—one moment he was dominating the offensive line, the next play he would engage the opposing lineman and quickly give up.

Dontari Poe is the strongest defensive lineman in the draft. The tackle out of Memphis posted an amazing 44 reps in the bench press this weekend at the NFL combine. Poe displays explosiveness off the snap, but often displays poor technique getting past blockers in both running and passing situations. Poe is also heavily criticized for under-utilizing his tremendous strength on the field.

There is an outside chance that in addition to these three players, fellow defensive tackle Brandon Thompson out of Clemson could sneak back into the first round. Since earlier this offseason, Thompson has tumbled down draft boards across the NFL after originally being projected as a first-round prospect. It seems unlikely a team such as Denver would pass up several more viable options in favor of Thompson.

Unlike previous seasons, this year's draft is deep with talented defensive linemen, giving Denver a high likelihood of taking one of these players when their pick is up in April.

Denver has a tough decision to make heading into the draft this season. Should they address defensive tackle via the draft or simply decide to leave the position open to competition for yet another consecutive season?

In last season's draft, Denver chose linebacker Von Miller over defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the second overall pick. Miller ended up winning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors this past season.

Denver passed on other defensive tackles throughout the remainder of the draft, and after the draft the team had to address the position through free agency. As a result, the run defense suffered.

This season Denver shouldn't pass up the clear choice right in front of them.